Criminal Minds

Season 3 Episode 3

Scared to Death

Aired Wednesday 10:00 PM Oct 10, 2007 on CBS

Episode Recap

A young woman peers in fear through the dirty window set into the top of a wooden trunk. She bangs on the window, begging to be let out. Dr. Stan Howard places a flashlight on the trunk, and asks her if it is "worse than she thought." The woman gasps for breath and screams in fear as he slides a wooden panel over the window, shutting out her face. The screaming is muffled now, as he arranges magazines on the top of the trunk that he is using as a coffee table in his office. Dr. Howard sits at the desk, opens his journal and makes notes about the woman's behavior – noting that her anxiety level is at "10." He realizes that the screams and gasps have stopped, quickly checks on the woman, and then notes she lost consciousness after 8 minutes. He turns off his desk lamp and sits back in his chair.

Derek Morgan and Emily Prentiss are standing beside Spencer Reid's desk at the BAU as Reid rereads the note Gideon had left him. Garcia enters carrying boxes of the items Gideon had left in his office, and she tells the team he left everything except his photographs. Reid mentions that Gideon thought of those photographs as his family, and Morgan and Prentiss exchange glances, concerned about Reid's demeanor. Hotchner sits in his office staring at a handprint picture made by his son, Jack, but he quickly turns it face down as Section Chief Erin Strauss knocks and enters. Strauss informs Hotchner that Jason Gideon is officially no longer a member of the bureau. She places several very thick files on Hotchner's desk and asks him for his input as to Gideon's replacement – they don't want to leave his post empty for long. JJ leans into the office to let Hotch know the team is ready for its briefing on the latest case.

Hotchner interrupts as JJ begins the briefing. Standing before the team he addresses the loss of Gideon, and tells them he has no idea what Gideon's departure is all about. What matters now, he says, is that they will continue to do their jobs. Turning to the photographs posted on the board behind him, he tells them that Portland, Oregon police have found a mass grave with three bodies, and another body nearby. Deaths were caused by different means – from asphyxiation to burning alive with no sexual assault. The means tell the team the killer is a sadist, but with no sexual components, it is difficult to determine if the unsub is male or female. The latest victim was Jenny Whitman, found in a lone grave. She had never been reported missing – only one of the victims was – Rick Holland – but when the family began receiving emails from Rick saying he "needed time to figure things out," they called off the search. Hotchner believes that this behavior – the unsub sending emails in the victims' names – indicates that the psychopath is trying to cover his tracks. If the burial of three victims together, and then Jenny Whitman's lone grave, is a pattern, the unsub will be looking for two new victims.

"The Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu once wrote: 'He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.'"

JJ hands around the files on the victims to the rest of the team on the BAU jet. Each victim was between 25 and 30, and had been dead for six months. Even though each was killed in a different way, Reid mentions Gary Taylor, the "Phantom Sniper," who changed his MO as his need to control the situation changed. Now that the unsub's dump site has been compromised, this may push him into making a mistake. Garcia calls in and tells the team that the killer has pretended to be his victims at least twice, sending emails to the family in order to cover up the disappearance. Each family was not close-knit, so no investigation into the validity of the emails occurred. The unsub is creative, and knows quite a bit about the personal details of the victims' lives. Hotchner insists they go over the details once more, just to make sure they haven't missed anything.

At the FBI Field Office in Portland, Special Agent Bill Calvert introduces himself to the team. Morgan immediately recognizes Agent Calvert's Boston accent. Calvert, Prentiss and JJ stay at the office to meet with the family of the victim, while Hotchner, Morgan and Reid go to Jenny Whitman's apartment. In the old apartment building, only Morgan and Reid fit in the small elevator, so Hotchner decides to take the stairs to Jenny's 4th floor apartment. Shortly after the elevator makes a shaky start, it jerks to a stop with a groan. Morgan jostles it, and Reid tells him to stop. Morgan starts pushing buttons, and Reid gets more agitated, telling him not to push the buttons. Morgan teases Reid about being scared and then the elevator suddenly jerks, and both agents are scared. They push the alarm button repeatedly, and Reid nervously motions Morgan to pry the doors open. The doors won't budge and the elevator jerks again. Reid and Morgan are both panicking now. The elevator doors jerk open, and Morgan jumps out just at Hotchner reaches it on the 4th floor. Hotchner calmly asks if that was an alarm he heard, and asks if the two are okay. "I'll get back to you on that," answers Reid.

Jenny's landlord lets the agents into her messy apartment. Reid explains that they will be looking at Jenny's things in a different way from the agents who already visited her apartment – they will be looking for something about Jenny's behavior that caused the unsub to target her as a victim. Morgan notices that Jenny's shower has never been used – she's using it as a storage space. The landlord tells them that, when Jenny moved in two months ago she walked up and down the stairs – she wouldn't use the elevator. This unsub preys on people who are new to the city with no strong social ties so they won't be missed and Jenny seems to fit the profile.

Prentiss is restless at the Field Office. They have been over the details of the case files again and again. Agent Calvert tells them that Jenny moved to Portland away from her family to make a fresh start. JJ explains that each of the victims was single, each had recently moved to the area without any family or friends. Agent Calvert can relate – he is 30, single, and moved to the area a month ago. JJ tells him she would like to talk with him later about how he got settled into the city.

Dr. Howard is sitting at his desk writing in a journal. He reaches out and turns off his desk lamp and immediately has a flashback to his childhood. He is sitting on his bed desperately pleading with his mother to leave the light on. She is harsh and abusive, and threatens to use a belt if he continues. The child begs her to stop, but she turns off the light. Back in his office, Dr. Howard looks at his watch and hurriedly turns on the light. Mopping his sweaty forehead, he rises and opens his office door. He apologizes to a young patient, Patrick, for keeping him waiting. Patrick enters the office and tells Dr. Howard he is ready to move on to the next phase of treatment.

In the lobby of his office building, Dr. Howard and Patrick walk past a building index that lists a number of doctors and their specialties. Patrick feels that coming to a behavioral therapist was the only option for him – "I have nothing to fear but fear itself." Dr. Howard commends him on his attitude.

JJ and Agent Calvert are listing the first places he checked out when he moved to Portland, including a coffee place, a gym, a doctor, a dentist and a dry cleaner. They will have to canvass the neighborhoods of all four of the victims.

On a wooden dock next to the water, Dr. Howard and Patrick are discussing Patrick's anxiety about swimming. Patrick is rocking back and forth, holding his towel and gym bag on his lap, although he says that he's never felt this calm around water before. Dr. Howard tells him that he just has to get control of this fear. Patrick tells Dr. Howard he is ready, stands, and takes off his shoes. Dr. Howard reaches for a "shepherd's crook" – a life-saving device that is stowed nearby.

At the Field Office the BAU team is giving the profile to local law enforcement. The unsub had been using Wildwood Trail as a dump site for bodies, but cannot any more. They mention that the unsub thrives on being in control – he has gotten away with the murders thus far because he has been meticulous at every stage. All that the victims seem to share is their torture and death, and the fact that they were new to Portland, but they are sure that there is another reason they have been chosen. He craves control, and therefore may have been abused as a child. He may also be impotent since there is no sexual component. He is probably married, and may be keeping up appearances by adopting children. If he is captured he will likely kill himself rather than give up control.

Patrick is in the water, and Dr. Howard reaches out to him with the shepherd's crook. Patrick grabs onto it in fear.

Morgan explains that the victims' lack of defensive wounds means the victims put themselves in danger and trusted the killer. The murderer is calculating and intelligent, so the BAU will have to do something unexpected.

As Patrick's anxiety mounts, Dr. Howard keeps a strong hold on the end of the crook. Patrick's breathing is becoming rough and he tells the doctor he is ready to stop. "Is it worse than you thought?" asks Dr. Howard as he pushes Patrick away with the crook. Patrick struggles in the water, but the fear has overwhelmed him and he goes under. Dr. Howard sits down on the dock and makes a notation in his journal before collecting his things and walking away.

At a press conference, JJ makes a plea to the young people of Portland, warning any newcomers to the city to be aware of a killer who may be stalking them. Dr. Howard is listening to the broadcast in his darkened office. In a small apartment, a landlady calls the FBI hotline and tells Prentiss about her tenant, Patrick Walker, who has been missing since that morning. The landlady explains that Patrick has a strict routine and he didn't come back at lunchtime to walk his dog. His backpack is also at the apartment, meaning he hasn't gone to his lecture.

That night Dr. Howard finishes making notes about Patrick's death in his journal and switches off his desk lamp. He sits quietly in the dark. His wife is angry when he arrives home late, complaining that he did not call and that their daughter, Jessica, has been asking for him. When he moves to go upstairs, his wife nags that his dinner will get cold. Dr. Howard slams into his chair at the table and begins to shovel food into his mouth, asking her if she's happy now. As he does this, his wife seems to dissolve into his mother and back again. Upstairs, Jessica wants to leave the light on in her room when she goes to bed. Her father refuses, telling her that she can only grow if the light is out, and that turning off the light is for her own good. He studies her face as he switches off one light, and then the other.

The next morning, a jogger finds the body of Patrick Walker on the shore. As officers retrieve the body, Morgan goes to check on anything else found in the water. Agent Calvert mentions abrasions left on Patrick's neck and shoulders and wonders if this is a victim of the same killer. Prentiss explains that he fits the profile exactly. Morgan returns with the end of the shepherd's crook. Prentiss asks Calvert for a list of other suspicious drownings and Morgan calls Hotchner and Reid to report. When Hotchner mentions the means of deaths of the victims – fire, asphyxiation, drowning – Reid makes a connection: each of these modes of death can be fied as an Anxiety Disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual describes five subtypes of phobias – this idea came to him when he and Morgan were stuck in the elevator. These people are being killed by their fears.

Prentiss and Reid joke about Hotchner's even more intense attitude now that Gideon is gone as they canvass one of the victim's neighborhoods. Stopping a moment on the street corner, Prentiss asks Reid how he is doing. After an initial sarcastic, "Oh, I'm great," Reid compares Gideon's letter that "explained everything" with his father's abandonment of him and his mother when he was a child. Reid thought of Gideon as a courageous man – standing up to some very sick people in his life. But this note addressed to Spencer was anything but courageous. He pulls the envelope with his name on it out of his pocket, saying "It's addressed to me, but I'm not the only person he abandoned." Prentiss challenges him to read the letter again – he's missing something. Reid brushes that idea off because of his eidetic memory, but she reminds him that even though he had ten years with his own father he erased those memories because it was too painful to remember. Why did Gideon only explain himself to one person? To Reid?

Dr. Howard has a new patient - Missy. She sits across from him explaining that, in the time she's lived in her new city, she's only seen the inside of her apartment.

At a neighborhood laundromat, Prentiss and Reid find a bulletin board ad participation in a controlled research project to get over one's anxieties. The sign offers $100 to each participant to attend only two sessions. Morgan enters and tells them Patrick Walker joined a local boxing gym, but he's found nothing else. Prentiss believes that, if they find other flyers for the anxiety study in victims' neighborhoods, they may have discovered how the killer finds his victims.

Missy explains that she hasn't told her family about seeking out therapy for her problems. She tells Dr. Howard that she is supposed to go cave diving with her family over the holidays. It isn't the diving that concerns her; it is the thought of going into a cave. She fears that the walls will collapse on her and she will be buried alive. Dr. Howard tells Missy that he believes she can overcome this fear in only one session if she's able to come back to the office later.

In a basement room Dr. Howard collects his tools, including a shovel and several bags of dirt.

Morgan and Prentiss find another flyer in a coffee shop, but it is dated August of 2006. Morgan is concerned: if the unsub had been looking for victims that long ago chances are there are more bodies out there they have not yet found.

Law enforcement searches the rest of the 40-mile Wildwood Trail near the other dump sites. They find eight graves and twelve bodies. Morgan calls Garcia for a trace on the phone number from the flyers, but she is busy teasing him about the elevator incident. She laughs when he finally agrees that he freaked out – a little bit – but tells him about her research. The number belongs to The Goodman Institute – even though the website looks legitimate, everything about it is bogus. It claims to be the leading researcher in behavioral therapy but there are no tax records or business license and the man who supposedly runs it, Dr. Barry Goodman, doesn't exist. There is an on-line questionnaire where the killer could be getting all the important details from his victims' lives.

Missy follows Dr. Howard down to the basement. He explains that, since it is cold and dark it will feel like a cave. She mentions that the cup of tea he gave her has calmed her down. Dr. Howard tells Missy that her state of mind is important, and will help her have complete control. Missy gets dizzy as she walks through the darkened basement room. She falls into his arms, and he drops her into a deep hole in the floor. Missy loses consciousness, and Dr. Howard begins to make notes in his journal. As he gazes down at her body, he has another flashback. This time his mother is berating him for wetting the bed. She hangs the sheet out the window so that everyone can see it, and then locks her son in the dark closet. Dr. Howard comes to his senses and gets up off of the basement floor. Missy is awake and is calling for him, but he begins to break open the bags of dirt and pour them down on top of her.

The team is comparing notes in the conference room when Reid points out that the person who wrote the website questionnaire mistakenly calls anxiety disorders, "phobias." The killer is a professional psychologist, but he received his training in the 1980s. His questions clearly reveal those people who are new to the area, live alone and are not close to their families. From what they've recently learned about him he is most likely married, may have adopted children and is desperate for a sense of community – he also might have been abused as a child. Putting all of the information together, Garcia is able to come up with Dr. Stanley Howard. He is married, has an 8-year-old daughter and started a center for abused kids. His practice shut down about a year ago, right when the killings started. He still has a lease on his old office building downtown. Prentiss and JJ go to talk with Mrs. Howard while the rest of the team heads off to Howard's office building.

Jessica Howard opens the door of the Howard home, but is quickly pulled aside by her mother. While JJ speaks with Jessica in the other room, Prentiss asks Mrs. Howard about her husband. Mrs. Howard is arrogant, claiming that she would know if anything was going on with her husband. When Prentiss tells her Dr. Howard shut down his practice a year ago, she is shocked. Mrs. Howard explains that her husband has had issues since his mother's death a year ago – he became a psychiatrist because of her.

When Hotchner, Morgan, Reid and Calvert arrive at the location of the office building, they find a vacant lot. Prentiss asks Mrs. Howard if there is any other place Dr. Howard would go and she tells her about a commercial building that is owned by her family.

Missy is begging Dr. Howard to let her out, but he continues to pour dirt over her. The dirt fills in the hole, rising higher and higher, and he asks "Is it worse than you thought?" Finally, he completely covers her with dirt. He begins to write in his journal as sirens approach his location.

Hotchner and his team head up to Dr. Howard's office on the 5th floor. They find an appointment book showing that Missy was his last patient. Calvert and Reid take the west side of the building and Morgan and Hotchner head off in the other direction. They are concerned because they know Dr. Howard will not go quietly. As they head outside they see Dr. Howard climbing a stairway to the roof. Racing up after him, Hotchner has Morgan radio to Reid about their location. Hotchner stands on the landing looking up at Dr. Howard's position at the edge of the roof. He explains that he has found at least 15 people dead – it is over. Hotchner tells him that he'll never get over his fear if he kills himself. Dr. Howard has no intention of coming down. "I think your greatest fear is that you can't save everyone," he explains to Hotchner. As he leans over and falls from the roof he concludes, "It is worse than I thought." Prentiss breaks the news to Mrs. Howard and Jessica that Dr. Howard is dead.

Calvert has found Missy's car in the parking lot. Hotchner believes that Missy is there somewhere based on Dr. Howard's parting words to him. Reid rushes out to tell the team he's read the doctor's journals and found Missy's. Her fear was of being buried alive. The team heads off to the basement. They find the empty bags of dirt and the hole in the floor. Digging quickly with their hands, they find Missy's arms, and try to clear out enough dirt to raise her out of the hole. Laying her on the floor, Hotchner finds a faint heartbeat, and Missy begins coughing. She's going to be all right. Garcia gazes at a picture of Missy on her computer screen – she has been saved.

"Eleanor Roosevelt once said, 'You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.'"

Morgan and Hotchner are the only two awake on the plane ride home. Hotchner is working, and Morgan sits across from him, watching. Finally, Morgan confronts Hotchner – something is wrong, and it's not about Gideon leaving. Hotchner reminds him that they made a deal not to profile each other, but Morgan persists. Solving this case without Gideon was a big victory for the team, but Hotchner isn't enjoying it. After a long pause, Hotchner admits to him that his wife Haley has left him and he doesn't know if she's coming back.

[recap written by Finnegan77]